Bower

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Like the word bow, the derivative bower has several distinct meanings. (OED lists eight nouns and one verb.) These are bound to distinct pronunciations:

  • Those like the 'bow' of 'rainbow' and 'bow and arrow'), that is, rhyming with 'know', 'so' and 'Joe' - 'BOH-er', IPA: /'bəʊ ər/, whose meaning is discussed at bow (homographs). These may be:
    • A maker of bows: archers' weapons - this is also written bowyer - or sticks with [horse]hair used to play string instruments. Note that 'a good bower' may be a violinist with a good technique of producing sound from the strings by use of the bow.
    • The meaning of 'peasant' discussed below may be pronounced like either 'know' or 'how'.
  • Those like bow (meaning), that is, rhyming with 'how', 'now' and 'plough' - 'BOW-er', IPA: /'baʊ ər/. These may be:
    • a person (or thing) that bends, either his or her own body, from the waist or the neck; or one who bends some other material object, such as the metal of fish hooks, or one who trains trees in a garden;
    • the name of an anchor carried in the bows of a vessel. Well-equipped ships carry two, one to starboard (known in the days of sailing ships as the best bower), and the other to port (known in the past as the small bower, although usually the two bowers are identical in size and pattern). They are now simply named the starboard bower ('the anchor carried on the starboard bow') and the port bower ('that carried on the port bow').
      • These two are derived from meanings of bow defined at bow (homographs). Other homophones are:
        • bower 'a dwelling', often a 'cottage'. In literary texts, this word is often used to mean a place of ideal happiness and peace "not realized in any actual dwelling" (OED s.v. bower, n.1, 1. b.
        • This meaning has given its name to the builders of stylish love-nests, the bower-birds, in the species of which males construct elaborate bowers as a form of display and courtship.
          • There is also a verb 'to bower' 'to lodge', 'to shelter' or 'to make one's dwelling'
Etymological note: this meaning of bower is derived from common Germanic būr, 'a dwelling', which also gives us the words neighbour, Old English nēah-gebūr, 'nigh-dweller', more idiomatically '[one who lives in] a nearby house'; Boer and boor.
        • These two are cognate with the obsolete bower meaning 'countryman', 'peasant', 'farmer or farmworker', and its use as a name for the Jack or Knave in a suit of playing-cards. In the game of Euchre, where the highest card is the Knave of Trumps, it is known as the right bower; the Knave of the suit of the same colour, which is the second highest card, is called the left bower.

Most obscure are the obsolete terms

  • in falconry, a bower (or, if female, bowess) is a young hawk that, having fledged but not yet being able to fly, may walk about among the boughs of the tree in which the nest is situated.
  • in traditional Scots farming, a bower (BOO-er /'buː ə/ - the usual realization in Scots of what RP would pronounce 'BOW-er', /'baʊ ə/) was a tenant who rented a herd (bow, /bu:/) of cattle as well as the land on which they were grazed, a form of share-cropper.

As a surname, Bower is ascribed firmly by Cottle, 1967 to the class of names derived from places, 'dwelling' or 'cottage' - or one of the places named from this, like East Bower in Somerset and Bowers Giffard in Essex.

The occupational surname used by those whose ancestors made, or sold, bows is Bowyer. Nevertheless, the Scottish chronicler Walter Bower (1385-1449) appears to have been related to a family called Bowmaker in Haddington, East Lothian, where he was born..